Zimbabweans have been queuing since dawn to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections which could push Africa’s oldest leader President Robert Mugabe into retirement after 33 years in power.
He has said he will stand down if he loses to his bitter rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mugabe’s campaign team is predicting a landslide victory for the 89-year-old who has run the country since independence from Britain in 1980. His Zanu-PF party has been accused of doctoring the electoral roll, a charge it denies.
Morgan Tsvangirai won most votes in the first round last time, sparking violence across the country. He stood down but in a deal brokered to end the violence his party has shared an uneasy coalition with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.
After casting his vote he told reporters: “An emotional moment sometimes when you see all these people. After all the conflicts, the stalemates, the suspicion, the hostility, I think there is a sense of calmness that finally Zimbabwe will be able to move on again.”
There are no reliable opinion polls to predict whether Tsvangirai will succeed at his third attempt to unseat President Mugabe. A spokesman for his Movement for Democratic Change party said the party was only willing to accept the results if the poll was “free and fair”.
Western election observers have been barred from the ballot; regional and domestic monitors will oversee the poll. The results are expected within five days and a run-off will be held in September if no candidate wins over 50 percent of the vote.